He is an Argentinian, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who has chosen the name Francis after Francis of Assisi, known as the saint of the poor. It is to be noted that this former Archbishop of Buenos Aires is the first non-European pope for 1,000 years. Africa may have to wait another 1000 years at least before it gets a Pope, and Asia too another 1000 years, depending on how strong was Pope Benedict’s ‘harvest.’
Known for his commitment to social justice and his championing of the poor of his native Argentina, then Cardinal Bergoglio was a humble man who had moved out of his archiepiscopal palace and into a simple apartment. He had given up his chauffeur-driven car and took the bus to work, and also cooked his own meals. Something to emulate?
One of his major challenges will of course be to iron out the major problem that has been plaguing the Catholic church for many years now, from Italy to Ireland and Scotland, to Germany and America. In fact in Los Angeles the Catholic Church yesterday agreed to compensate victims of child abuse by Catholic priests to the tune of 10 million dollars.
His predecessor Pope Benedict’s record in the matter was highly controversial. During his watch the Vatican is alleged to have turned a blind eye to several cases that were brought to its attention and investigated positively. Given the inaction, this had led to several thousands of Catholics deserting the Church in his own country of origin, Germany.
However, although the new Pope is a Jesuit and therefore more open-minded, still he holds on to the Catholic Church’s position on legalisation of gay marriage, and opposes abortion and euthanasia, and is not in favour of artificial contraception either.
But his strong points are that ‘he is a man of prayer, of deep spirituality, personal humility, pastoral warmth and attractive simplicity. He is not a man afraid of radical choices.’ Perhaps he will make some of these radical choices on the sensitive and critical issues mentioned above for the benefit of his flock at large.
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The visit of Indian President Pranab Mukherjee
Indian President Pranab Mukherjee did Mauritius the great honour of accepting to be Chief Guest on the occasion of the country’s Independence Day. In fact, as was pointed out during one of the speeches, this is the second country he chose to go to since his becoming President of India. The first one was Bangladesh shortly before he came here, and there he took the opportunity to go and visit the village where he was born.
Several high-profile functions were held to make him feel welcome, and in fact during his address hosted in the village of Grand Bois at the local MGI he made reference to that. He said that he and his delegation had been received so warmly ever since their arrival in the island that they felt they were at home. This is indeed testimony of the proverbial hospitality of Mauritians – some of which if put into practice amongst Mauritians themselves would no doubt go a long way to strengthen the bonds of nationhood!
A report by PTI (India) noted that ‘India and Mauritius enjoy close historical relations and New Delhi has termed the ties as “unique, special and extra ordinary”. India gives highest importance to its relations with Mauritius as 70 per cent of its people are Indian origin and 38 per cent of its foreign direct investment comes from that country, in addition to its geo-strategic location, secretary (West) in the ministry of external affairs Sudhir Vyas has said.’
Pranab Mukherjee, who belongs to the Congress Party of India, has had a long career as a politician before becoming President. When he was sworn in, he made clear his priorities, one of the most important being terrorism. He called the war against terrorism the ‘fourth World War because it can raise its evil head anywhere in the world. India has been on the frontlines of this war long before many others recognized its vicious depth or poisonous consequences.’ He showed his commitment to this by putting a stop to the dilly-dallying that had delayed the hanging of the most important perpetrator of the 26/11 attack on Mumbai, Ajmal Kasab.
He reminded his countrymen that ‘A modern nation is built on some basic fundamentals: democracy, or equal rights for every citizen; secularism, or equal freedom to every faith; equality of every region and language; gender equality and, perhaps most important of all, economic equity. For our development to be real the poorest of our land must feel that they are part of the narrative of rising India.’
He was hopeful that in the decades to come India would be able to rise to these challenges in ‘quantum leaps’ led by the coming generations. Here’s wishing that his dreams for his country come true.
* Published in print edition on 22 March 2013